A couple of years ago, this was Colby All-American runner Jessica Minty’s routine:
Minty ’06, an economics major who graduated magna cum laude, was working 60 to 100 hours a week for a consulting firm in Boston, Analysis Group.
Her day started at 4:45 a.m. “I’d get out along the Charles to try to get in anywhere from four to ten to fourteen miles before I went to the office,” she said. “I ended up moving within a two-minute walk of the office so that I wouldn’t have to spend any more time commuting to work.”
And if the morning run didn’t fit in? Minty, who was running for the New Balance-Boston team at the time, would squeeze in a run on her lunch break. “Or nine o’clock at night,” she said, “excusing myself to go down and run ten miles on the treadmill in the gym downstairs before coming back to continue to work until two in the morning.”
Run, shower, work, sleep. “It had me questioning,” Minty said. “What’s gonna give?”
(A hint: it wasn’t going to be her running.)
The training and coaching from New Balance began to pay off, even as Minty’s grueling regimen continued. Competing nationally, she was lowering her times, and she eventually caught the attention of Peter Rea, who coaches Team ZAP, a Reebok-sponsored nonprofit professional team based in North Carolina.
“Frankly, I’d never heard of Jess Minty,” Rea said. “But I saw her name springing up and she was banging heads with and beating many of the women from D-I schools. It piqued my interest.”
And when Rea saw Minty run, he liked what he saw. “She had very good biomechanics,” he said. “In the big picture, she hadn’t run a lot of miles. She was young in running years.”
This despite the fact that Minty has been running for a long time, for increasingly long distances.
In high school in Massachusetts she first was a sprinter, moving to the 800-meter event. At Colby Minty was successful in the 800- and 1,500-meter events, placing eighth nationally in D-III in the 800 her senior year. After Colby she focused on 5,000-meter races, the most common post-collegiate events. Rea said her speed for that distance was good but not outstanding. The better event for her, in his opinion? The marathon.
Minty had watched the Boston Marathon as a child but had never run one. But she was intrigued enough to visit the ZAP Fitness training center in the mountains of western North Carolina. ZAP Fitness financially supports (at $25,000 per runner per year, plus benefits) about 10 post-college distance runners, prepping them for a run at the U.S. Olympic team. Minty checked out the facilities, met the rest of the team (seven men, three women, most from D-I programs), and went back to Boston to give her notice.
“Everyone understood it was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said, “that consulting and the business and finance world would continue to be there but there’s really only a short window when you can realize your potential as a competitive distance runner.”
And just like that, Minty traded her cubicle and computer for running trails and the gym.
She’s been running for ZAP Fitness for two years—halfway into a four-year plan laid out by Rea. The objective: a place on the U.S. Olympic team for 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The plan included her marathon debut in Boston last March. “My coach and I put together a really good twelve-week buildup leading up to the marathon,” Minty said. “I was feeling fantastic. Some key workouts … suggested that I would be ready to run my first marathon in a very competitive time. And, given the field for Boston this year, I fully intended to be the top American finisher.”
But then Minty was tripped up (not literally). Two weeks before the race she strained a tendon in her ankle and, instead of running Boston, she ended up in a walking cast. She had to take five weeks off and in June was still working her way back to her training pace: “Last week I ended up running seventy miles. I’d like to be running a hundred or a hundred and ten.” By July she was there.
Despite that setback, Rea says Minty still is on track and showing good progress. “I’m very pleased,” he said. “Not content, but very pleased.”
Minty has already qualified for the Olympic trials, by running a 1:14.20 half-marathon in Houston in February. The plan now is for the Colby alumna to make her marathon debut in California in December at the California International Marathon in Sacramento.
With the Olympic trials still two years away, Minty, 26, said she knows she has a long way to go (“I’m an infant when it comes to the marathon,” she said). But she has her sights on one of those three slots. “I don’t think I would be at ZAP if I didn’t think that I could make the team. So the goal is to make it to London. If, at the end of all this, I fall short and finish fifth, I’ll still be ecstatic. I’ll likely still pursue running professionally for another Olympic cycle or more.
“I want to know what’s the best my body can be,” she said. “How fast can I go? How high can I place? I think it’s just the pursuit of wanting to know one’s limits. That’s always been the goal.”